It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the National Football League as it careens through multiple public relations cowpies regarding spousal and child abuse allegations and arrests of several of its’ premier players. It has been quite illuminating watching Roger Goodell and league owners patch the mess up with a series of stickless Band-Aids that were sitting in the medicine cabinet about a decade too long. They clearly thought this could, would and should blow over like most of the other 713 arrests of NFL players since the year 2000 (which included 85 other domestic violence charges). However what made this different and seemingly more disconcerting was the threat made by Anheuser Busch to question its relationship with the NFL and threaten to pull their advertising support of the league.
Never mind the bonkers-on-a-stick hypocrisy of a beer company criticizing another organization of facilitating negligent behavior (nearly 18,000 alcohol relating driving deaths in 2012), the threat seemed to have the desired effect of the NFL at least feigning outrage their bungling of the issue. Realistically, however, does an advertiser threaten their own $5.8 billion dollar per year sales effort over a handful of players’ lousy (and probably drunken) behavior? If push came to shove, would Anheuser Busch give up marketing to their most loyal audience because of moral outrage?
While we may never have the answer to that as NFL ownership, moved to do the right thing by weeks end, it does raise an interesting point as to both the influence and moral compass of big money sports sponsors. Not dissimilar to the “sponsors running from a burning building” tack that successfully had a hand in removing full time racist Donald Sterling from ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers earlier in the year, will conscience trump profits or are these just empty gestures made by beholden advertisers who see the PR benefit of at least manufacturing short term outrage over an obviously wrong-headed move? And if it isn’t just an empty gesture does the door swing both ways? Can the NFL choose to manufacture the same outrage over alcohol deaths by refusing to allow Anheuser Busch have such a ubiquitous appearance in front of its fans? And can we as consumers register our own outrage at so much malfeasance by boycotting everything that doesn’t match with our national code of conduct?
The answers are yes, no and no. Usually when someone says I’m gonna hit you so hard it’s because 1) you are in second grade and 2) the threat of saying it should be enough to achieve whatever desired affect you wanted. And as far consumers organizing to use their purchasing dollars to “send a message” , we are more like to end up like Janay Rice, lying on the floor unconscious, but ultimately forgiving of our big galoots because even the threat of losing what we love would be enough for us to acquiesce.